Friday, May 11, 2018

Not a panacea but a big step in the right direction


Big changes are afoot on the Canadian military justice file, and it's not all bad news.


First, on Thursday May 10, 2018 the Minister of National Defence introduced Bill C-77 entitled An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. If enacted, this Bill will introduce significant changes to the military summary trial system; reforms that critics of the military justice system, including this author, has advocated for over the past decade and more. It will decriminalize the summary trial system. Summary trials will become disciplinary in nature and will no longer have the powers of punishments that include detention and other penal consequences.


But there is more. Bill C-77 will also amend the National Defense Act to provide rights to victims of crime and will also put into force significant reforms to the court martial system. Going forward, victims of crime in the military will no longer be exempt from the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. This victim may also have a Liaison Officer who will be able to explain to the victim the operation of the courts martial and provide him with the information relating to a service offense to which he is entitled. While this is a step forward, it falls short of the recommendation that such victims also have access to legal advice during the reporting, investigation and prosecution of such a crime against the person.


Third, many changes from the Military Justice for the Defense of Canada Act, which received Royal Assent on June 19, 2013, will be put into force. These include:
  • UNCONDITIONAL DISCHARGE etc.  Introducing unconditional discharge, intermittent sentences and restitution orders as punishments available at court martial. A court martial will be also be able to absolve an accused convicted of an offense for which there is no minimum sentence or a maximum sentence of 14 years and over.
  •  INTERMITTENT SENTENCES. The court martial will now be able to order an offender to serve his sentence intermittently. This may enable a reservist from serving his sentence while maintaining his civilian job.
  • RESTITUTION ORDERS.  The court martial will now be able to impose restitution orders, obliging an offender to compensate a victim in cases of material, bodily and psychological damages suffered.
  • IMPACT STATEMENTS. Victims will be able to prepare and read impact statements which shall be considered in sentencing.
  •  CIVIL LIMITATION PERIODS.  The statutory limitation period for bringing an action against the Department of National Defence will be extended from six months to two years.

Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez only assumed the reins as Judge Advocate General (JAG) in June 2017, but in this short time she has seemingly introduced her vision for a new era of military justice. These actions represent a first major step towards modernizing the military justice system. I am hopeful that the proposed changes will go through all stages of the legislative process in short order, thus enabling soldiers to face a military justice that lives up to their courage and bravery.

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